Resistance Training for Heart Health

It’s well known that cardiovascular exercise — engaging in activities that elevate the heart rate for a sustained period of time — is one of the best ways to maintain or improve heart health. And here at, we often write about the importance of walking and other forms of cardiovascular exercise. But as as we’ve noted in the past, resistance training (also known as strength training) is also a vital form of exercise.

A new study shows just how important building muscle mass can be when it comes to heart health. Published last month in The American Journal of Cardiology, the study looked at the relationship between muscle and fat mass and death from cardiovascular disease (CVD). As noted in a HealthDay article on the study, researchers analyzed data from over 6,400 Americans with CVD. Participants were grouped into four categories based on their muscle mass, fat mass, and body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account): low-muscle/low-fat, high-muscle/low-fat, low-muscle/high-fat, and high-muscle/high-fat.


The researchers found that both higher muscle mass and higher fat mass — along with a higher BMI — were associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, as well as death from all causes. But the lowest risk of death (both overall and from CVD) was found in the high-muscle/low-fat group. This finding suggests that at least when it comes to cardiovascular risks, it’s less important to lose weight than it is to build your muscle mass — and that if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s very important to ensure that you’re losing more fat than muscle. Engaging in resistance training is the only practical way to do this.

Research has also found that resistance training can lead to improved blood glucose control. One study, published in 2005 in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, found that participants with Type 2 diabetes who went through a four-month strength training program saw a significant decline in their HbA1c level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) — from an average of 8.3% to 7.1%. Blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels were also improved. In contrast, a similar group that went through a four-month cardiovascular endurance training program saw no significant improvements in any of these areas.

Notably, the American Diabetes Association recommends doing some type of strength training — along with cardiovascular exercise — at least twice a week. Examples of recommended activities include lifting weights (or using weight machines) at the gym, using resistance bands, lifting canned foods or water bottles at home, and exercises that use your own body weight for resistance (such as pushups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, and wall-sits).

What’s your current relationship with resistance training — do you find it enjoyable or cumbersome? Does reading about its benefits make you feel more inclined to incorporate strength exercises into your daily or weekly routine? If you’ve started a strength-training regimen, have you noticed any improvement in your blood glucose control? What about in other areas of your health? Leave a comment below!